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The Emperor Frederick – a fairy-tale wedding in Worms Cathedral

The people of Worms must have been amazed: In 1235 Frederick II, the Roman-German Emperor and King of Jerusalem, married an English princess. A procession including camels, monkeys and wild animals passed through the city.

Frederick with his falcon. Taken from his book “De arte venandi cum avibus” (On the Art of Hunting with Birds), a so-called Manfred Manuscript (Biblioteca Vaticana, Pal. lat 1071), late 13th century (Source: Wikipedia) 
Frederick with his falcon. Taken from his book “De arte venandi cum avibus” (On the Art of Hunting with Birds), a so-called Manfred Manuscript (Biblioteca Vaticana, Pal. lat 1071), late 13th century (Source: Wikipedia)
Wedding of Frederick II and Isabella of England in Worms in 1235 (relief on the Town Hall in Worms, photograph: Worms City Archives) 
Wedding of Frederick II and Isabella of England in Worms in 1235 (relief on the Town Hall in Worms, photograph: Worms City Archives)

Frederick II married Isabella (Elizabeth) of England in Worms Cathedral

On July 15 th 1235, Frederick II married for the third time in Worms Cathedral. His wife was Isabella Plantagenet, also known as Elizabeth (b. 1214, d. December 1 st 1241 in Foggia). She was a daughter of King John (John Lackland) and a niece of Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) and at the time the sister of the King of England, Henry III. Frederick was about 20 years older than Isabella.

The wedding was celebrated with a lavish and exotic procession. The contemporary chronicler Gottfried of Viterbo wrote:

But he rode, as befits his Imperial Majesty, in great splendour and magnificence, accompanied by many carriages laden with gold and silver, batiste and purple cloth, precious jewels and valuable instruments, together with many beasts, namely camels and dromedaries, led by Saracens performing various tricks and finally monkey and leopards led by Ethiopians who guarded his money and his treasure.”

The procession ended at the cathedral.

 

Who was Frederick II?

Frederick II (b. December 26 th 1194 in Iesi near Ancona, d. December 13 th 1250 in Castel Fiorentino near Lucera), one of the Staufer dynasty, was Roman-German Emperor from 1220 until his death. He was the son of Emperor Henry VI and Constance of Sicily.

This Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was also known as “stupor mundi” – the wonder of the world. He was highly educated and spoke several languages, allegedly including Italian, French, Latin, Greek, Middle High German and Arabic. He is generally considered to have been a “miracle figure” among the German rulers of the Middle Ages and has even been called the “first modern person on the throne” (Jacob Burckhardt). 

The reason for this view was, above all, that he tried to establish a kind of universal empire using what were to some extent modern means. For modern scholarship, his death marks the beginning of the so-called Interregnum, which lasted from 1250 until 1273.

 

King of Jerusalem

Frederick had given a promise to the Pope that he would lead a crusade to the Holy Land. He married the Queen of Jerusalem, Isabella II (Yolande) in Brindisi on November 9 th 1225, and on the same day he declared himself King of Jerusalem. Isabella died soon after in 1228 giving birth to a son, who later became Conrad IV. As a result of the marriage, the Staufer dynasty had acquired a claim to Jerusalem.

One example of the extent to which Frederick differed from his contemporaries was his crusade to the Holy Land. As someone who was intimately acquainted with Arab mentality, he “conquered” Jerusalem by means of lengthy negotiations and the signing of a treaty.

Peaceful negotiation instead of military conquest was viewed as high treason in the Christian world, but this is did not bother Frederick.  From that time on, he and his many supporters, who included theologians, emphasized the messianic nature of his rule. In the struggle between Emperor and Pope, this was interpreted as meaning that Frederick was the “end-time” emperor, the emperor of peace.